NASHVILLE (BP) – Virtually nothing was left untouched by the interruptions and dangers caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic. SBC entities grappled with stay-at-home orders, financial uncertainty and mandated safety protocols – all while continuing to carry out their ministry assignments.
Below are reports from the entities about how they navigated a strange year. BP will also publish separate reports covering the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board and Send Relief, Southern Baptists’ compassion ministry.
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
By ERLC Staff
NASHVILLE (BP) – Throughout 2020, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has continued to partner with churches to provide resources that equip Southern Baptists to engage some of the most difficult and pressing issues of the day with the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. On ethical issues ranging from religious liberty and abortion to technology and sexuality, ERLC has sought to be a reliable and consistent voice in the public square and to partner with Southern Baptists in reaching a world in need of Christ.
As Southern Baptists continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, the ERLC has sought to be a leading help for churches – providing resources and recommendations on everything from church safety to children’s ministry to analysis of SBA Loans. Additionally, the ERLC has been in regular contact with civic leaders and even courts – working to defend against any erosion of religious liberty, while insisting that churches should be seen as key partners in combating this virus.
The ERLC remained tireless in its efforts to stand up for the lives of the preborn as fellow image-bearers and worked to develop several new initiatives to be announced in the coming year. Throughout 2020, the ERLC provided regular pro-life resources and advocated for pro-life policy at the state and federal level. Additionally, the ERLC worked to secure a major increase in its ultrasound-placement ministry, The Psalm 139 Project, and will be placing 10 ultrasound machines across the country over the first six months of 2021.
ERLC welcomed three new executives, including new Executive Vice President Daniel Patterson, Chief of Staff and Vice President for External Affairs Brent Leatherwood, and Vice President of Operations and Life Initiatives Elizabeth Graham.
For church resource, visit ERLC.com.
GuideStone Financial Resources
By Roy Hayhurst
DALLAS (BP) – While 2020 has been unprecedented on so many levels, GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins, who announced his retirement in September, said the year has held its share of blessings for the ministry and its participants.
Growth of Mission:Dignity
Mission:Dignity is on pace for a record year in 2020, likely exceeding $10 million in gifts. In response to large numbers of churches not meeting earlier in the summer, Mission:Dignity Sunday, on the SBC calendar for the fourth Sunday in June, was moved to August this year. Southern Baptists responded with more than $1 million given — a record.
Another record set this year came on the annual #GivingTuesday, when almost $900,000 was received from donors.
One hundred percent of gifts to Mission:Dignity goes directly to the aid of a retirement-age pastor or his widow. Administrative costs are funded from an endowment established many years ago. The ministry is funded by gifts from individuals, churches and Sunday school classes. It receives no Cooperative Program gifts.
Focus on inclusion and diversity
GuideStone continues its work to reflect the ethnic diversity of the Southern Baptist Convention and recognizes the inherent strength of a diverse workplace. At the end of 2020, non-Anglo employees account for about 20 percent of GuideStone employees, up from 9.8 percent at the beginning of this millennium. Kasan Boyd, a 14-year veteran of GuideStone with experience in training and Human Resources, has moved into a new role to lead these intentional efforts. GuideStone currently has six African American trustees, including the first African American woman to serve as chair of an SBC entity trustee board.
Addition of new chief insurance officer
Chu Soh, a retired U.S. Air Force officer and health care industry executive, and a native of South Korea, joined GuideStone as chief insurance officer in June. Prior to joining GuideStone, Soh served as chief operating officer for a large health sharing organization, growing it from 23,000 households in 2013 to more than 150,000 households last year.
LifeWay Christian Resources
By LifeWay Staff
NASHVILLE (BP) – As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world in early 2020, LifeWay quickly moved to better serve churches and church leaders trying to minister in unforeseen circumstances.
As the coronavirus continues to impact congregations into the new year, Ben Mandrell, LifeWay president and CEO, says the organization “wants to do everything we can to help churches sustain their vital ministries during this time. Because of this, we have been working on solutions for supporting local churches as they seek to grow together as disciples during this season and walk with them as they begin rebounding.”
In the spring, LifeWay provided church assistance packages, low-cost books and Bible studies, as well as numerous free resources including digital giving plans, curriculum, at-home children’s ministry kits, student discipleship packages, and a tool for reopening churches.
Some of the most difficult pivots centered around events and camps, but LifeWay worked to provide safe alternatives for churches and church leaders.
“Reach” was the theme of this year’s ETCH Conference, held Oct. 13-14, which brought together online more than 900 ministry leaders of kids and students for training and virtual fellowship. ETCH – hosted by LifeWay Christian Resources – stands for equipping the church and home.
More than 700 women gathered physically and online for the 2020 LifeWay Women’s Leadership Forum Nov. 12-13 at Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn. For COVID-19 safety and compliance reasons, in-person attendance was capped at around 250, which included women spanning 21 states and seven denominations.
Throughout the year, LifeWay reached more than 40,000 women with a number of digital events hosted by hundreds of churches and streamed by more than 27,000 individuals. More than 100,000 women also joined one of the LifeWay Women’s online Bible studies in 2020.
More than 6,000 people tuned in for the 2020 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference, held July 20-24 as on online-only event during the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Gateway Seminary Staff
ONTARIO, Calif. (BP) – Though the COVID-19 pandemic presented numerous challenges, Gateway Seminary has thrived.
“Decades of economic, social and spiritual challenges prepared the seminary to effectively overcome those presented by the pandemic,” Gateway President Jeff Iorg said.
“We have faced many obstacles over the years – the financial realities of doing ministry on the West Coast, pressure from local communities to abandon biblical positions on social issues, and the difficulties of bringing the Gospel to very secular culture. Frankly, Gateway staff and students have developed strong constitutions, and that allowed us to withstand the pandemic.”
All face-to-face classes were moved to online delivery formats starting on March 16. That temporary change became permanent for the spring 2020 semester as state and local restrictions continued to develop. Though Gateway classes continued with little interruption, events such as spring commencement were canceled. After a summer of preparation, on-campus classes resumed in fall 2020. More than 60 percent of Gateway students opted for online or remote access courses.
Stay-at-home orders in California required much of the staff to work remotely. In light of the complications of remote work, staff were paid regardless of the hours they worked, and underworked staff were temporarily assigned to other offices. There were no layoffs.
In September, two vice presidents announced plans to retire. Michael Martin, vice president of academic services, and Tom Hixson, vice president of business services (VPBS), will retire in 2022 and 2021 respectively. Both have committed to aid in the transition by taking on new roles when their successors have been hired.
Glenn Prescott, director of theological field education and professor of ministry leadership, and Bob Philipps, director of library services, also announced retirements in 2021.
At their spring meeting in April, trustees approved a reduced budget of $11,500,000. The approved budget represented a reduction of $250,000 from the previous year’s budget. By October, trustees approved a budget increase to $12,000,000 in light of enrollment numbers and Cooperative Program funding that exceeded projections.
On April 2, Gateway announced a $250,000 gift designated for student scholarships. Donors also raised more than $85,000 in April to assist students during the pandemic. In December, the seminary raised more than $108,000 to fund the Hoff House, a home for future professionals-in-residence at Gateway. The Hoff House is named in honor of Lisa Hoff, former director of the Kim School of Global Missions, who passed away Sept. 21 of this year.
“This has been a difficult year, but students and staff at Gateway have responded with strength and grace,” Iorg said. “Though the pandemic challenges are new, our response has been the same, consistent one we have had through our history – we focus on the mission, work hard, and trust God for the rest.”
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
By Michael S. Brooks
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) – While collectively, people have grown familiar with the reality of “unprecedented times” and “new normal,” one aspect of life within the Midwestern Seminary and Spurgeon College community has remained constant: the opportunity to render time, effort and resources toward equipping the church for maximal impact in Gospel ministry.
The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated several significant changes on the ground. 2020 saw a transition to full-time virtual learning in the spring and, later the creation of “Residential Plus” — a new hybrid course-delivery system that permitted students to return to campus for in-person learning this fall. Elsewhere on campus and in keeping with local and state health guidance, precautions were set in place across the seminary’s Kansas City campus to allow for social distancing and decreased in-person contact.
In Spring 2021, online students will benefit from the new classroom technology as a slate of “Online Plus” courses will be offered featuring live virtual lectures with MBTS faculty.
Amid difficult circumstances more broadly, the seminary experienced a number of positive developments as well. The trend of increasing year-to-year enrollment growth continued in 2020. President Jason Allen reported to Trustees a 12 percent increase in hours taken for the fall 2020 semester compared to fall 2019 and a 9 percent increase in the total number of students enrolled. Additionally, the academic committee announced a number of promotions among the seminary faculty, along with the addition of Geoffrey Chang as assistant professor of historical theology; Andrew King as assistant professor of biblical studies; Patrick Schreiner as assistant professor of New Testament and biblical theology; and Charles Smith as assistant professor of Christian leadership.
Expressing gratefulness and trust in God for the days ahead, President Jason Allen exhorted the seminary community in one of several presidential updates earlier this year: “I encourage you to frame all of this with biblical wisdom. As men and women of God, we are to be wise, but not fearful; vigilant, but not unnerved.
“We trust in our sovereign God, His kind providence, and in the power of prayer. Moreover, this is a time for a Christian community, such as Midwestern Seminary and Spurgeon College, to radiate Gospel hope, fervent prayer, and a confidence in our Redeemer.”
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
By NOBTS Staff
NEW ORLEANS, La. (BP) – COVID-19 presented its share of challenges for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College in 2020. The pandemic made life harder for students and professors alike. With all the difficulties brought on by COVID guidelines and social distancing, new initiatives and partnerships brought welcomed news to the seminary community.
Leavell College launched a “house system” to promote fellowship, community, and discipleship and promote a well-rounded experience for students. Patterned after the college systems at Oxford and Cambridge, the houses – Elliot, Bonhoeffer and Moon – are named for historical Christian leaders that exemplify the values listed in the school’s mission statement. In addition to the house system launch, Leavell College also received newly renovated offices in the Hardin Student Center and unveiled a new logo early this spring.
Financial gifts to the school made a big impact during COVID-19. This year’s Giving Tuesday Dec. 1 saw record giving: $253,000 raised with a $100,000 matching gift, benefitting the school’s Providence Fund. And during the height of the COVID-19 surge in Louisiana, special student scholarships provided for the summer term helped offset the financial burden for students impacted by COVID-19 and drew a record summer registration in total credit hours.
A new partnership designed to promote church planting and missions was approved in the spring. The partnership between NOBTS and the North American Mission Board will result in a new church planting center on the NOBTS campus to coordinate and enhance church planting assessment and training. The center will train church planters to serve throughout North America as well as in New Orleans.
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
By SEBTS Staff
WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) – Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (SEBTS) mission of serving the church and fulfilling the Great Commission endures in a remarkable way despite a year of significant challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic.
For SEBTS, 2020 is marked by the Lord’s grace and guidance as the school has continued to experience growth and new ways of providing for its students, faculty and staff.
SEBTS experienced record numbers of enrollment for both the 2019-2020 academic year and the fall 2020 semester. Student enrollment at SEBTS has increased for 12 consecutive years, with an enrollment of 5,273 at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year. Likewise, SEBTS continues to see an influx in applications to the seminary and college. Our enrollment continues to hold steady outperforming general trends within higher education. Additionally, SEBTS is continuing to see great progress in its financial campaign, For the Mission, which has reached 59.2 percent of its $20.5M goal. These increases are a testimony of God’s grace in the midst of a global crisis.
This fall, SEBTS resumed in person classes. Students were required to wear masks in class, indoors, and any time social distancing was not possible. SEBTS also provided different formats to help students attend classes, including 7-week courses and live, synchronous courses. This fall, faculty were also required to record all in-person lectures for students who were unable to attend class due to COVID-19.
In light of the pandemic, student tuition was reduced by five percent. This reduction assisted students financially during the pandemic, in addition to the nearly quarter of a million dollars in student financial aid that was made available at the start of the pandemic. A 2020-2021 budget reduction allowed SEBTS to achieve its goal of not laying off full-time staff members during the pandemic. In order to maintain all employees, full-time staff received a reduction in pay, led by President Akin and the members of the cabinet. Southeastern is grateful for the Lord’s direction in navigating this year of challenges without layoffs and continued investment and innovations in the school’s programs and resources for students and for the church.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
By SBTS Staff
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Over against the dark days of the COVID pandemic, the light of God’s grace shone clearly at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during the recently completed fall semester.
In 2020, the seminary’s enrollment reached an all-time high, allowing the school to educate more students – both in person and online – than at any time in its history. When the pandemic hit last spring, leadership opted to cut tuition by 15 percent, which helped stabilize and strengthen enrollment at both Southern and its undergraduate school, Boyce College.
In the weeks following the COVID shutdown, SBTS reduced its budget by 30 percent, and the school’s financial health has increased all year enabling the school to sustain financial strength throughout the year. In his fall convocation address, SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said the pandemic is merely one obvious example of myriad dangers that lurk in a fallen world every day, dangers that always surround Gospel ministers as they carry out their work.
“We will never be surrounded by anything less than deadly dangers,” Mohler said. “And we are preparing those who will serve Christ in the church and in the world by sending them out into a world which is even more dangerous.”
Earlier this month, the seminary graduated 236 during its fall commencement. By God’s grace, the seminary and college held on-campus classes – with proper masking and social-distancing policies in place – and performed more than 4,000 COVID tests with only 32 positives (an infection rate far lower that of the community at large), the vast majority of which were asymptomatic.
Mohler told students and faculty in his convocation address that the opportunity to meet at all during a pandemic was a precious gift from God.
“Right now, I seize with you the opportunity to enjoy, appreciate, and be found faithful in this academic year we had no right to expect, but is now God’s gift to us,” he said.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
By SWBTS Staff
FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) – Even in 2020, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary remained true to its mission, adapting to changing circumstances in order to commission 638 graduates in an in-person commencement in December, strengthen its academic offerings, hire new faculty, and continue its emphasis on both academic output and evangelistic outreach.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, precautions were taken by the seminary, including closing the campus and moving all courses to solely online platforms in March through the spring and summer semesters.
“The coronavirus pandemic has not lessened the urgency of theological education; indeed, it has only heightened that urgency,” President Adam W. Greenway said.
After the Texas stay-at-home order expired in April, Greenway announced that the campus would reopen for the fall semester with extensive safety measures.
During the fall semester, 594 new students enrolled, an increase of 29 percent over the prior fall. The school experienced a 14.9 percent revenue increase during the 2019-2020 fiscal year, including a 14.6 percent increase in tuition revenue; and a 215 percent increase in donations to the school’s annual fund.
During two meetings, trustees approved 10 new degrees. Southwestern also launched eight-week courses for online students to expedite their path to graduation and partnerships with Oklahoma Baptist University and Dallas Baptist University to provide advanced standing and joint degrees, respectively. Through elections and appointments, 15 faculty were added across academic disciplines.
Southwestern Journal of Theology, under the leadership of editor Davis S. Dockery, launched its Book of the Year Awards. Dockery also was appointed interim provost. Faculty authored or contributed to 10 books, and Seminary Hill Press released three new titles.
Even during the pandemic, faculty and students’ ongoing commitment to sharing the Gospel with the lost continued utilizing preexisting relationships, technology, and even, in some cases, socially distanced door-to-door efforts.